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Trash Turned to Art

February 2, 2009

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Artist Jason Middlebrook

Artist Jason Middlebrook brings the unbridled wastefulness of contemporary living to new heights in a massive 35-foot tower made from several tons of cardboard collected from UAlbany.

Not many artists seek creative inspiration from the recycling bin. In the latest exhibition at the University at Albany Art Museum, artist Jason Middlebrook gives old plastic bottles, cardboard, wood and other discarded material new life.

With Live with Less, Middlebrook has transformed the Art Museum into his own personal canvas. He brings the unbridled wastefulness of contemporary living to new heights in a massive 35-foot tower made from several tons of recyclables. The cardboard, collected on campus over a one-month period, is stacked from floor to ceiling creating visual stratifications analogous to the layers of a landfill.

"That column gives them a window into the volume [of cardboard] we're talking about here," said Middlebrook. "If students come and see the show and see that the cardboard has value, artistic value, then that's the beginning of them getting it...If that makes them stop and think for a minute, then I've achieved something."

Each painting and sculpture in Middlebrook's exhibit is a reminder of humanity's uncompromising footprint on the Earth. Live with Less illustrates Middlebrook's practice of using raw materials to uncover a deeper sense of social awareness and responsibility. It's also a way for Middlebrook to showcase his artistry in creating something from nothing.

"It's incredibly interesting because it's not just cardboard anymore, it makes a statement," said sophomore English major Etti Calderon of Long Beach, N.Y., who was one of a handful of students helping Middlebrook create his exhibit. "It raises consciousness and asks the campus to be more aware of the consequences of what people do."

Live with Less will feature dozens of new paintings as well as a series of wood plank sculptures in which vivid painted patterns echo the natural striations of the wood's grain. At the museum's entrance, visitors will be greeted by several of Middlebrook's cardboard "signs," echoing the 42-year-old's thoughts and philosophies on topics including art, music, history and the Earth.

A California native, Middlebrook lives and works in Hudson. His work has been exhibited at institutions worldwide. Live with Less opens Feb. 3 at the University Art Museum with a gallery walk-through with Middlebrook at 4:30 p.m. and reception from 5-7 p.m. The exhibit, which runs through April 5, compliments the University's ongoing promotion of the need for environmental accountability on campus and the community.

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